“Bringing trending architecture to Cyprus is complex, but it is possible,” says Michael Cosmas, an Engomi-based architect whose firm has worked in Dubai and Greece, and whose local buildings include Nexus 435, in Nicosia, and the Salt Lakes Visitors Centre in Larnaca.
“There can be innovation on a number of fronts. It’s not necessarily cutting- edge, for a variety of reasons, but I think we do try in our practice to look for innovation on matters accessible to us. Materiality is a problem, because the construction industry here isn’t advanced enough in Cyprus.
“You try to innovate as much as you can with the tools that are available, using what’s available intelligently, making the most of what we have with local materials, combining tradition and innovation,” he explains.
Born in Cyprus, Michael Cosmas set up his offices in what was his grandmother’s house in Engomi.
“I’ve never moved much from where I was born,” Cosmas says.
Nonetheless, he did go to the UK for a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Nottingham University, and a Diploma in Architecture from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and then to Boston, for a Master’s degree in Urban Design from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Mass.
He came back to Cyprus in 2001 and opened his office.
Cosmas could work anywhere, but he prefers his native Cyprus. “We did do some projects in Dubai for some years, and that was very interesting for me. But nowadays nearly all our work is in Cyprus.”
“The practice of architecture has become international, so there must be exposure to other cultures, with their universities and institutes, and to our colleagues in those cultures – we do maintain an understanding of international issues, we are global and local at the same time.,” he explains.
But practicing in Cyprus means focusing on the local issues, Cosmas points out.
“One particular building, currently under construction, is a good example: It is forward-looking in terms of construction and materiality, but it also brings in references from its locale.”
This is the Stassinou Avenue Tower, next to a former primary school, an old historical building on the perimeter of the old part of Nicosia, opposite the moat. Cosmas has made the tower into an office building with a strong presence within the iconography of Nicosia.
“The site was very difficult to work on, a very small plot which obliged us to produce a vertical structure, but in keeping with traditional design. We are producing a building that is interesting in construction, energy efficient, a hybrid of concrete and metal work, with a cement system close to colours of the old city,” he explains.
Another good example, Cosmas says, is the master plan his firm has created for the University of Nicosia.
“For the university in Engomi, over three years, we created a master plan to help the school and community develop, with an eye to the next 20-30 years. We have planned their next buildings to produce an urban campus for students and institutions and community of Engomi. This is a product we are very proud of because capacity to affect a great number of people – institutions and the community alike,” Cosmas notes.
Cosmas loves working in Cyprus, but says that working in this country involves confronting a frustrating and unhelpful bureaucracy.
“The procedures involved in licensing, and the planning commissions, involve laborious and unproductive procedures, often missing the point of what matters. We spend 25 per cent of our time having to deal with such procedures, and it’s uncreative and unproductive, so we hope this will change sooner rather than later.”